Texas takes on Northwestern in four-game series

Travis Hlavinka

At 5–3, the No. 23 Longhorns are not where they’d hoped to be at this point in the season. They’re not too far off, however. And with a four-game series against Northwestern looming this weekend, Texas is in prime position to almost double its win total.

The Northwestern Wildcats come to Austin sporting a 2–4 record after most recently dropping a series against Kansas.

This is not the Texas team many expected to see coming into the season, though. Most would’ve assumed that the Longhorns would be strong in their pitching rotation and on the field. While they’ve done an adequate job in those aspects of the game, at the plate is where the team has done most of its damage.

“We’re a better offense than most people think,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “We’re not as good defensively and pitching as most people give us credit for. But I think we’re solid.”

Helping lead the offensive charge for the Longhorns is somewhat of a surprise name for fans. Moving up into the cleanup spot for Texas, redshirt freshman designated hitter Zach Zubia has been stellar, batting an impressive .300, while leading the team with eight RBIs. The most eye-popping statistic for the first-year starter might be his ridiculous .750 slugging percentage.

“Every swing (I feel like I have the chance to change the game),” Zubia said. “But you can’t think that you’re going to hit a home run every at bat, because you’d be in the Hall of Fame already. But just to know that you have one swing that can change the game, that can change momentum especially, is nice to know.”

Where Zubia has struggled, though, is in the strikeout category. He currently leads the team with 10 strikeouts in only 20 at bats — most of which came on off-speed pitches.

“If he can be disciplined, he can be a force,” Pierce said. “And that’s going to come with at bats. Zach is going to go through some growing pains. But at the same time he can be a dominating force like we’ve seen already.”

While Texas does not have its complete pitching rotation set for the weekend, junior Chase Shugart will likely start on Friday night, with junior Nolan Kingham and sophomore Blair Henley starting in Saturday’s double header. Henley, in particular, has been absolutely masterful during both of his starts in this young season. As the only Texas starter with an ERA below 1.00, Henley has thrown for 11 innings, allowing 11 hits and only one earned run. Henley, who Pierce said can throw strikes in his sleep, has found his groove only two starts into the season. He was even named Big 12 Pitcher of the Week after shutting out LSU in his six-inning performance last weekend.

“It’s cool (to win the award),” Henley said. “It is another day. I do want to thank my defense for that one. I think I had three Ks and three walks, and every other pitch was a groundout or pop up. They really did their job on the routine plays, and that’s what I think is going to make us successful.”

Texas’ first game against Northwestern will be on Friday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. First pitch is slated for 7 p.m.